Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Adrija Roychowdhury - Marshall Islands’ vs India: Why a tiny island took nuclear nations to court

The United Nation’s highest court on Wednesday disregarded a bid made by the Republic of Marshall Islands to file a lawsuit against India on the grounds that it “cannot proceed to the merits of the case”. The tiny island country located in the northern Pacific ocean had decided to sue India in 2014 on the grounds that India has not been complying with international legal provisions on disarmament of nuclear weapons. Along with India, eight other countries were accused by the Marshall Islands on the same grounds.

Marshall Islands’ horrifying history of nuclear activities: The concern of the Republic of Marshall Islands towards relentless nuclear activities in the world comes in the wake of the horrifying first-hand experience the country has had in the middle of the twentieth century. The country that currently holds a tiny population of 70,000 people had been occupied by the United States during the Second World War, following which the US had conducted a series of nuclear tests on its site.

Between 1946-1958, 67 nuclear tests had been carried out in the islands causing large scale destruction. The most destructive of these testings was the hydrogen atomic bomb tested at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954, which was reported to be equal in its capacity to 1000 Hiroshima sized bombs. The testing which went by the code name Castle Bravo led to the complete vaporisation of two small islands. In the 1980s, the Marshall islands signed an agreement with the United States that made it a self governing country. Since 1986, the US has been paying compensation to the island country for the destruction caused.

Accusation against India: The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into effect from 1970 and was aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear activities around the globe through a gradual process of disarmament. As of 2016, 191 nation states became signatory to the treaty. India along with Israel, Pakistan, South Sudan and North Korea refused to sign.

Even though India is not party to the disarmament treaty, the country is bound to keep checks on nuclear activities under customary international law. The Republic of Marshall islands accused India on the grounds that it carries nuclear arms which they believe is a “flagrant denial of human justice.” On the basis of India’s refusal to disarm, the island nation decided to take up the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague, Netherlands. India countered that the claim is beyond the jurisdiction of the court.